Nearly a decade before my son was born, my Italian grandmother died. Because she was in poor health, her death was not a surprise, but my reaction was. Years later, this response would help me cope with my future as a single parent.
My mother called me at work the day she passed away and asked if I was coming to her house that evening.
I assured her I was and thought nothing more about the brief conversation as I continued copy editing that evening’s news stories for the next edition.
When I arrived at my mother’s house after midnight, I did not notice the extra cars parked at the bottom of the driveway despite their illumination from my headlights.
I closed my car door and stepped out into a dark stillness I had never experienced, but I did not pay any attention to it. I was lost in my musings over the day’s events.
I opened the door to the kitchen where I saw my mother standing, looking at me beseechingly, crying softly, then walking slowly toward me, reaching out her arms, as she told me that Nonna had died.
And my reaction? I pushed her away. I did not want her to touch me. I could not.
Needing to be alone
The pain consumed me, blinded me. The woman I loved and admired so deeply who taught me courage, dignity and grace in spite of her endless struggles was gone.
In that moment, I needed to be alone in my body, in my thoughts, in my feelings, to even begin realizing that I would never feel her tender embrace and the softness of her skin, hear the subtle Italian accent in her voice and see the curious look in her eye with every conversation we shared.
This inclination emerged again as I processed my pregnancy and my decision to be a single parent.
I wanted to reach back for the arms that wanted to hold me, to the counsel that sought to soothe me, to the love that yearned to support me, but I was uneasy, uncomfortable and unable to do so as much as I wanted to and needed to.
Looking back now, I believe I wanted to be alone to protect myself from the disappointment I felt in others and their cruelty, ignorance and insensitivity.
I wanted to be alone because I was afraid of allowing people to comfort me and console me.
Controlling what I could
Cocooned in my little apartment in a small Pennsylvania city, I used my bed rest as a time for reflection and preparation.
Each day I determined those situations I could control and controlled them as best I could.
I was starved for any sense of security I could muster and desperate for any understanding of this new confidence I needed to find in myself so I could confront the challenges awaiting me.
After my former fiancé and I ended our relationship for the last time, I contacted an attorney to discuss obtaining custody.
He advised me on some preliminary steps that had to be taken before my son was born. These early actions in no way could have prepared me for the legal monsoon I was entering for the next seven years.
Tending to the practicalities
At least once a week, I traveled to the grocery and video rental stores. I mused over my newfound love for donuts and strange obsession with horror films that my son brought into my life.
These little excursions were a welcome break from the confines of my tiny apartment and, fortunately, required minimal exertion.
I was no stranger to the nesting instinct so many pregnant women experience. My mother and I shopped for various supplies that were stored at my parents’ home where I eventually moved to and lived for seven years.
I was amazed at the selection and created quite a wish list. My favorite, by far, is the wipes warmer.
In the meantime, I worked on my birthing plan. This simple document was more critical than I realized, particularly considering the unforeseen circumstances of my son’s birth. Among the details were my son’s name, whether he would be circumcised and who could be in the hospital room with me.
The plan gave me some control while my body took its trajectory. My doctor and the accompanying midwife were monitoring the deterioration of my physical condition and progression toward preeclampsia.
The 48-hour nightmare
Truly, I was not fully aware of how dangerous my situation had become, until I was admitted to the hospital, given multiple doses of Pitocin to induce contractions and other drugs to address the pain and side effects of my condition, and finally ordered to undergo an emergency cesarean section — all within 48 hours.
During labor, my parents and a dear friend were in my hospital room and I am grateful to them and my nurse for their intervention even to this day.
My attorney advised me that I should contact the father as soon as I went into labor, which I did. However, I did not list him in my birth plan as one of the people I wanted in my room during labor.
He managed to make his way to my room anyway with a bunch of flowers that the nurse placed in a container, which typically holds urine.
Apparently, he was arguing with me, but I don’t remember. I was going in and out of consciousness from the various medications.
I do remember him sitting down and me telling the nurse to make him leave, which he did.
My son and I were in such great physical distress and I needed a champion. To all of you, thank you!
Not ready to be a mom
Eventually, the doctor informed me that a C-section was required to save my life and that of my son’s, whose lungs had only formed the previous week.
I was not afraid of the surgery; I could heal from that. It was the impending parenthood that terrified me. It had finally arrived. I was going to be a mother.
What had I gotten myself into? I wasn’t ready yet. I still had three more weeks until my son was scheduled to be born. I hadn’t even selected a pediatrician.
I wanted to go back to my cocoon and contemplate my future. Crashing on my couch with another horror movie and a dozen donuts sounded perfect at that moment. I even asked the doctor if I could go home.
No choice now
Instead, I initialed the paperwork with my mother’s help, underwent the life-saving surgery and woke up nearly three hours later with a baby boy and a new life. Just like that!
My last trimester was difficult and wonderful, scary and perfect. I chose to take each day as it came and face its challenges. I chose to take some time for myself. I chose to accept a new person into my life and demonstrate to myself that I could do it … on my terms.
But I want to thank everyone who stuck by me and wouldn’t allow me to go it alone.
On Thursdays, I will be sharing a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every fourth Thursday, instead of a personal post, I will put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to send any comments and questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also on Twitter @parentsonurown and can be found by searching #singleparentandstrong.